BYU ‘Selfie Satellites’ Successfully Deployed Into Space

Jan 28, 2021, 4:38 PM | Updated: 5:12 pm
BYU "Selfie Satellite". (Used by permission Nate Edwards/BYU)...
BYU "Selfie Satellite". (Used by permission Nate Edwards/BYU)
(Used by permission Nate Edwards/BYU)

PROVO, Utah – Two nanoSatellites built by students at Bringham Young University were successfully deployed into space aboard the maiden launch of a Virgin Orbit rocket.

On Jan. 17, the rocket dropped from the wing of a 747 and its engines ignited, sending the rocket and its payload into space.

A mission controller is heard on the video confirming the rocket made it into space.

“We were also able to confirm that the separation commands occurred as expected,” they said. “So very good news and that is very encouraging that we did deploy those satellites.”

Last week’s launch carried 10 satellites in all. They were built at various universities, including BYU.

“They said, you know, we’re now in space. I was just ecstatic. It’s been years that I’ve wanted to work on space technology, and now I finally have something in space,” said BYU electrical engineering student Patrick Walton.

“We’ve had several years of effort going into building these CubeSat satellites and preparing the ground station, the communication systems and everything that goes into that project,” BYU student Jacob Stratford said.

More than 60 students contributed to the BYU project. It took more than five years to complete the pair of 10-centimeter CubeSats.

A BYU graphic in the upper right shows flashes from the CubeSats. The photos were taken from the Virgin Orbit launch vehicle. (BYU Photo) One of the students who worked on the  Passive Inspection CubeSats. (Nate Edwards/BYU Photo) Passive Inspection CubeSats are 10 centimeters on all six sides. (Nate Edwards/BYU Photo) (BYU Photo)

“The satellites have cameras on each of the six faces, so they should be able to see anything around it,” Stratford explained.

“It’s a satellite that is designed to take pictures of another satellite,” said BYU engineering professor David Long. “In other words, it’s a spacecraft selfie cam.”

The BYU students still have not heard from CubeSats or downloaded footage or data. A news release said that is expected because the CubeSats haven’t flown directly over campus just yet. Long said they are in what’s called “a coverage hole.”

Satellite dishes set up on the roof of the Clyde Engineering Building are scanning the sky to hear from the CubeSat.

Long said they do know the CubeSats are working.

“We have confirmation that our satellites are transmitting their regular “beacon” signals, which are short data packets transmitted every 30 seconds that provide health information about the satellite,” Long said. “So, all looks well.”

He added it may be another couple of weeks before they get the data they have waited for.

“This is the first time BYU students built something that is free-flying in space,” Walton said. “It has to operate on its own, manage its own power, manage its own heat and transmit data to the ground by itself.”

“We are very, very happy and satisfied to learn that our products have made it into space,” Stratford added.

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BYU ‘Selfie Satellites’ Successfully Deployed Into Space